Sunday, April 13, 2014

forces driving US inequality for all

This post was written by Lester Andrist and originally appeared in The Sociological Cinema.

In this interview on Moyers & Company, former Secretary of Labor and Professor of Public Policy at the University of California, Berkeley, Robert Reich, discusses economic inequality and the worrisome connection between money and political power. Reich notes that "Of all the developed nations, the US has the most unequal distribution of income," but US society has not always been so unequal. At about the 6:20 mark, the clip features an animated scene from Reich's upcoming documentary, Inequality for All, which illustrates that in 1978 an average male worker could expect to earn $48,302, while an average person in the top 1% earned $393,682. By 2010, however, an average worker was only earning $33,751, while the average person in the top 1% earned $1,101,089. Wealth disparities have also been growing, and here Reich explains that the richest 400 Americans now have more wealth than the bottom 150 million Americans. What happened in the late 1970s to account for the current trend of widening inequality? According to Reich, there are four culprits. First (at about 19:10 min), a powerful corporate lobbying machine successfully lobbied for laws and policies that have allowed wealthy people to become even more wealthy, often at the expense of the poor. Examples include changes to antitrust, bankruptcy, and tax legislation. Second (at 34:00 min), Reich argues that unions and popular labor movements have been on the decline, which means employers have been under less pressure to increase wages over time. Third (at 38:30 min), while globalization hasn't reduced the number of jobs in the US, it has meant that employers often have access to cheaper labor, which has had the effect of driving down wages for American workers. He points out that in the 1970s, meat packers were paid $40,599. Now they earn only about $24,000. Fourth (at 38:30 min), technological changes, such as automation, have had the effect of keeping wages low. He concludes that there is neither equality of opportunity nor equality of outcome in the US, and unless big money can be separated from politics, the US economy is unlikely to free itself from the vicious cycle of widening inequality for all. (Note that a much shorter video featuring Reich's basic argument is also located on The Sociological Cinema.)        

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